Ukraine: How Russia’s War Goals Are Changing

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“We will help the Ukrainian people get rid of” the absolutely anti-popular and anti-historic regime,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on July 24 at a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, Egypt. reported by the Russian news agency TASS, Lavrov added: “We sympathize with the Ukrainian people, who deserve a much better life.”

Less than three months earlier, however, he had said something very different: that Moscow’s goal was to protect the people of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. At the time, he had maintained that the Kremlin was not looking for a change of power in Kiev.

TBEN has compiled a summary of how statements about Moscow’s war targets in Ukraine made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian representatives have shifted over the past five months.

July: ‘Geographical targets’ extended

On July 20, Lavrov told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti and Russian broadcaster RT that Moscow continues to pursue its goal of “denazification, demilitarization in the sense that there are no threats to our security or military threats from the territory of Ukraine.” .” But this time he added: “Now the geography is different; it’s far from just the DPR and LPR [the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics]it is also the Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions and a number of other areas.”

Lavrov did not rule out extending Russia’s “geographical objectives” in the war against Ukraine beyond the so-called People’s Republics, adding that there was no point in negotiating with Ukraine “in the current situation”.

These comments provoked very strong reactions in the Ukrainian media, which speculated that Russia “could prepare the way for the annexation of southern Ukraine”.

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May: ‘The goal is not a regime change’

Just three months before his July 24 statement in Cairo, Lavrov still insisted that Russia was absolutely not trying to overthrow President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government in Kiev. “We are not demanding that he surrender,” Lavrov told Italian broadcaster Mediaset on May 1. “We demand that he give the order to release all civilians and stop resisting. Our goal does not include regime change in Ukraine. This is the specialty of the US. They do it all over the world,” he says.

In the same interview, the first he had given to European TV journalists since the start of the war, he said that Russia’s real aim was to “ensure the safety of the people of eastern Ukraine so that they are not threatened.” by militarization. and Nazification and that no threats against the Russian Federation emanate from Ukrainian territory.”

Later, on May 31, during a meeting with Hissein Ibrahim Taha, the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Lavrov expressed the view that “Western colleagues” were exploiting the situation in Ukraine to “create the emergence of a multipolar world.” ” to prevent.

March and April: Ukrainian neutrality; with NATO

Immediately after the outbreak of the war, the alleged threat from the West – and NATO in particular – was at the center of the speeches of Russian politicians. They kept repeating that Ukraine should be neutral because that was the only way to prevent it from joining NATO. Vladimir Putin also emphasized this during a meeting with representatives of Russian airlines on March 5. He added that if a conflict were to arise between Russia and NATO, everyone would be aware of the consequences.

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A few days earlier, on March 1, a week after the invasion began, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency: “The most important thing for us is to protect the Russian Federation from the military threat posed by western countries, who are trying to use the Ukrainian people in the fight against our country.”

But by the end of March, after the failure of the Russian offensive against the Ukrainian capital Kiev, there was a marked shift in Moscow’s rhetoric. “Denazification and Demilitarization” faded into the background; support for the Donbas, and conflict resolution through negotiations took precedence. For example, on March 25, the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Colonel General Sergei Rudskoi, stated at a briefing that the “main [of the Russian special operation] is to provide assistance to the people of the DNR and LNR, who have been subjected to genocide by the Kiev [Kyiv] regime for eight years.” to provide assistance to “the entire regime” for eight years.

In April, however, Russian officials turned their attention back to confronting NATO and the United States. On April 11, Sergei Lavrov told Russian state broadcaster Rossiya 24: “Our special military operation is intended to end the reckless expansion and reckless course towards total domination of the United States – and the other Western countries below it – in the international arena.” The West, he said, had made Ukraine a “springboard for Russia’s final oppression and subordination” — and he stressed that Russia would never accept a position subordinate to the West.

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Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, has also spoken about preventing Ukraine from joining NATO. On June 29, he told the Russian newspaper Arguments and Fakty that this would be more dangerous for Russia than Sweden and Finland joining the alliance. In the same interview, he insisted that Crimea should be part of Russia forever. “Any attempt to invade Crimea is a declaration of war on our country,” he warned. “And if this is done by a NATO member state, it means a conflict with the entire North Atlantic alliance; a third world war. A complete disaster.” Vladimir Putin had said the same in March during his meeting with airline representatives.

February 24: “Protecting the people of Donbas.”

The perceived threat to Russia from further eastern expansion of NATO to the east was already a major theme of Putin’s February 24 televised speech announcing the Russian invasion, which he described as a “special military operation”. He said that “the aim of this operation is to protect people who have now suffered humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev for eight years. [Kyiv] regime.” This, he continued, was why Russia “is committed to the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine”, promising “to bring to justice those who committed countless bloody crimes against civilians, including citizens of the Russian Federation.” .”

Putin also stated: “It is not our plan to occupy Ukrainian territory. We have no intention of forcibly imposing anything on anyone.”

This article was originally written in Russian.

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